Whether you have a freshwater fish tank or marine setup, you need a filter to keep your tank water clean and safe for your fish. But with so many types of filters available, which one do you choose?
In this guide, we review some of our favorite fish tank filters and provide you with all the information you’ll need to pick the right one for your fresh or saltwater aquarium.
Whether you are a beginner hobbyist or an experienced fish keeper, read on to discover the best aquarium filter systems on the market today.
5 Best Fish Tank Filter Reviews
Now that you know what to look for in a good fish tank filter, check out our reviews!
EHEIM Classic External Canister Filter with Media
- Permo-elastic silicon sealing ring fixed on the pump head for easy and safe closing after cleaning
- Equipped with filter sponges and/or loose filter media
- Accessories included: spray bar, inlet pipe, hose and installation accessories
The EHEIM Classic is an extremely popular filter that’s been around for decades and has been sold by the millions.
The filter package consists of a canister chamber, spray bar, hoses, inlet pipe, filter media, and other installation accessories that you need to get set up and running. Everything is of very high quality and designed for reliability and longevity.
This filter system doesn’t include filter media trays, which can be a disadvantage for some hobbyists, as you need to remove the media separately for cleaning. However, this design rules out the accumulation of sludge in media trays that can prevent the water from passing through the media, rendering the whole system useless.
The main issue with this filtration system is that it’s not a self-priming pump. On the other hand, it is very efficient and will run for hours on a small UPS during a power outage.
What we like:
- Tried and tested design
- Several different sizes are available for larger tanks
- Durable and long-lasting
Room for improvement:
- No media trays
- Not self-priming
Penn Plax Cascade Canister Aquarium Filter
The Penn Plax Cascade Hang-on Aquarium Filter is an excellent 3-stage filtration system built for longevity and durability.
Setup is quick and easy, although the hoses can be a bit challenging to connect. Despite being one of the cheaper units on our list, the Penn Plax Cascade Canister packs quite a punch. The GPH flow rate is acceptable for each model size, and the spray bar enables you to increase water circulation and aeration if you need to.
Three large filter media trays provide three efficient types of filtration: mechanical filtration, chemical filtration, and biological filtration.
What we like:
- Preloaded filter media for speedy setup
- Reasonably priced
- Several models available
- Adjustable flow rate
- It has a non-tip base for safety
- Super-quiet operation
Room for improvement:
- Media trays are very small
- Fiddly to prime
- Tubes are not easy to connect
Marina Power Filter
The Marina Power Filter is well-designed, looks good, and provides excellent efficiency. The filter takes up minimal space behind your aquarium and features small, easy-to-use cartridges rather than the large clumsy ones that come with many multi-stage filter units.
This filter hybridizes an external HOB filter and an internal filter. The motor is located on the intake while the filter media is outside. As the motor is submerged, priming is not required each time you unplug the device for cleaning. The filter flow rate is adjustable, and the unit’s height can be adjusted to accommodate different water levels.
One massive plus point for this filter unit is its absolute silence, making this the perfect solution for a fish tank that lives in your bedroom or office.
What we like:
- Includes four filter cartridges
- Space-saving design
- Available in a range of sizes
- Adjustable direction and flow rate
- Silent, efficient operation
- Self-priming unit
Room for improvement:
- HOB design might not suit all tank locations
Aqueon Quietflow E Internal Power Filter
- Efficiently cleans and filters water
- Easy to install using suction cups and/or hanging clips
- Auto-start pump requires no priming, automatically restarts if power is interrupted and restored
Aqueon’s Quietflow E range of filters is ideal for setups where the water level is low.
The unit features a low-maintenance, top-loading filter media chamber that’s simple and quick to clean and replace. These units come in sizes to suit nano and larger aquarium sizes up to 90 gallons. The main downside to this filter is that you can’t adjust the flow rate, so you need to make sure that you pick the correct size.
Since nearly the entire filter is submersed, the Aqueon QuietFlow internal filter is very quiet and self-priming. The system includes a replaceable carbon cartridge, a Bio Holster to hold the biological filter media, and a water diffuser grid that provides an extra area where beneficial, healthy bacteria colonies can grow.
What we like:
- Self-priming, auto-start pump
- Multiple stages of filtration
- Several sizes available
- Sound-dampening technology ensures almost silent running
- LED Cartridge change reminder feature
- Lifetime warranty
Room for improvement:
- The flow rate is not adjustable
- Bio Holster is too small to allow for additional ceramic media
- Overall filter media capacity is small
AquaClear – Fish Tank Filter
- Aquarium filtration system that offers superior contact time with filter media and energy efficient pump lowers operating costs
- Quick and easy installation; we recommend that you clean aquarium filter every 2 weeks for maximum operation and efficiency
- Provides optimal mechanical; chemical; and biological filtration
AquaClear makes high-quality, reliable filters that last a lifetime if cared for and maintained correctly.
Part of the reason for that longevity is the lack of moving parts in each filter. Instead, the impeller floats in a magnetic field, producing much less wear and friction. You can alter the water flow to suit your tank’s requirements, reducing the current by as much as 66% without impacting the filter’s efficiency.
The filter features mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration media, and the filter basket ensures excellent water flow around your tank. This is a HOB filter, returning the water to the tank via a waterfall design, and the GPH rate is carefully balanced to suit the tank size.
A big selling point of this filter system is that it enables you to customize the filter media completely to fit your requirements. You get AquaClear foam, BioMax, and activated carbon included with the system, and there’s a wide range of additional types of filter media that you can choose from.
What we like:
- Multi-stage filtration system
- Different sizes available
- Quiet operation
- Efficient and effective filtration
- Customizable filter media basket
- Powerful GPH flow rate
Room For Improvement:
- The waterfall effect might be quite loud in some settings
What Types of Fish Tank Filter Are There?
There are plenty of fish tank filters to choose from to suit different setups. But whatever kind of aquarium filtration system you choose, you want one that gives you the right degree of circulation for your type of fish tank.
When choosing a filtration system for your tank, you want one that has a GPH equivalent to at least four times the total volume of your tank.
GPH stands for Gallons of water Per Hour. That figure refers to the filtration capacity or the number of times the aquarium water passes through the filtration system. You can usually find the GPH rate of the filter on the product packaging.
What Are The Different Types Of Fish Tank Filters?
Here’s a brief overview of the kinds of filters available. You can find more detailed information about the various filter types in this article.
Air-driven filters are extremely basic, having only three components:
- Sponge filter media
- Air pump
- Plastic airline
With this kind of internal fish tank filter setup, the air pump is situated outside the aquarium, connected to the sponge filter that sits inside the tank via a length of plastic airline tubing.
The underwater filter pump pushes air up through the airline into the filter box. As the air rises through the sponge, particulate in the dirty water is sucked through the sponge or filter floss you are using. Colonies of nitrifying bacteria in the sponge process the larger particles of organic waste product, breaking them down into nitrates as part of the aquarium nitrogen cycle.
With this form of filtration, the bubbling air helps move the water surface around, improving oxygen levels and water quality while providing a safe, gentle flow for slow-moving fish and fry.
These simple sponge filters have been a go-to system for many fishkeepers for decades, although they’re not great for larger freshwater tanks, as the filter is simply not powerful enough to clean the water efficiently. These units have few moving filter components, so the risk of failure is relatively low. Monthly maintenance is easy, and the filters generally run pretty quietly.
Hang-On-Back (HOB) Filters
HOB filters live outside your aquarium, saving you valuable space inside your tank. This external filter type is often customizable, containing a three-stage filter system. The operation of HOB filters is simple; plug the unit in, and switch it on.
Maintaining a HOB filter is easy since the media and impeller are easy to access, and these filters generally have an adjustable water flow rate and intake.
Overhead Filter Waterfall Effect
HOBs generally work by returning the water to the tank using a waterfall effect. Although most hobbyists actually enjoy the sound of the water gently trickling and splashing into the tank, the sound can be obtrusive in a bedroom or workspace. However, you can reduce the impact of the sound by keeping the water level up to the fill-line and ensuring that you don’t position the HOB unit too high.
Many new HOB designs feature a “slide-in” water return mechanism instead of a waterfall, making these units quieter.
A high-quality canister filter is a three-stage, pressurized filtration system that lives outside the tank, generally out of sight in your aquarium cabinet. An aquarium Canister filter comes in a modular form requiring a separate pump or a complete unit. Modular canister filters are typically the most popular, as they enable you to customize the filter media within the unit.
These filters drag water out of the tank and into the system using a U-shaped intake tube and return the water to the tank via a spray bar. The water is pulled through the filter media in the unit’s chambers before returning to your fish tank.
Canister filters are powerful filtration systems often used for large saltwater tanks or for tanks that house very dirty fish species, such as goldfish or large cichlids. These filters generally offer virtually silent running, too.
Undergravel filters are simple systems that rest beneath the substrate on the floor of your tank. A separate pump outside the tank drags the water through the substrate, taking any particulates from the water and depositing them underneath the filter plate, where the waste is processed by the colonies of nitrifying bacteria that live there.
The clean water is then pulled up through a pair of uptake pipes fixed to the rear corners of the filter plate before running back into the fish tank.
The main issue with an undergravel filter system is that there’s no filter media. All the fish waste is either caught in the substrate or ends up underneath the filter plate. Again, the constant sound of trickling water can be annoying for some, and pumps can also make a constant humming sound.
Although maintaining a premium undergravel filter is initially pretty simple, you’ll need to strip down your whole setup once a year or so to remove all the accumulated waste underneath the filter plate. That’s a big job that will disturb your plants and fish and damage any colonies of beneficial bacteria that live in the substrate and on the filter plate.
What Filter System Is The Quietest?
If having the quietest aquarium filter is important to you, you have only one choice: the external canister unit. Canister filters operate outside the tank, are water-powered, generate much less vibration, and don’t make as much internal noise as other filter units.
Since the water is returned to the filtration unit via a tube, there’s no annoying trickling sound of water splashing back into the fish tank. Also, many top-of-the-range models have integrated sound-dampening technology that helps to keep noise levels right down to a minimum.
Check the packaging on the filter system you’re considering purchasing, as many manufacturers now include approximate noise levels in decibels on the filter packaging.
We hope that you enjoyed our guide to the best fish tank filters and our aquarium filter reviews.
Every fish tank needs a filter system to keep the aquarium clean and safe for your fish. Also, you want a fish tank filter that’s quiet and easy to maintain. The last thing you want is a noisy piece of equipment that rattles and hums intrusively in the background in your bedroom, office, or living room.
What type of filter system did you choose? Tell us in the comments box below.